Rescue mission attempts Antarctica evac

Rescue mission attempts Antarctica evac

A daring rescue mission is underway in Antarctica. Temperatures there are below 0degC, and there is no daylight at this time of the year.

Twin Otter planes left Canada last week, heading for the unforgiving Antarctic winter. But a rescue plane has managed to land at the South Pole, where it will attempt to evacuate a sick worker from a US science station.

The rescue mission's only been carried out twice before -- in 2001 and 2003 -- due to the harsh weather conditions at this time of year. Pilot Sean Loutit flew both times.

"We faced sort of similar conditions to what the guys will be facing this week, which is cold temperatures and no light whatsoever down at the South Pole," he says.

One of the two planes has successfully made the 2400km journey to Scott Amundsen Station while the other stayed behind at British base Rothera Station as back-up.

The sick contractor's condition is unknown, and a second worker may also need evacuating -- a difficult task when temperatures are sitting at around -50degC with no daylight.

Lieutenant Colonel David Panzera has flown to the South Pole more than 300 times.

"It can go from blue skies like you see behind me today with just light clouds in the air to a total white out. A very, very, unsafe, and very, very, strange place," he says.

His unit evacuated Dr Jerri Nielsen, who diagnosed and treated herself for breast cancer at the station in 1999.

She had to wait until the end of winter to leave, which is something the current rescuers hope to avoid.

"The challenge is always going to be the temperature, and the weather," says Lt Col Panzera.

"Those two are the most uncontrollable factors, whether it's our airplane or theirs."

The rescue crew will wait at least 10 hours at the South Pole before refuelling and flying the sick worker back to Rothera Station.

The contractors will then leave Antarctica to be taken for medical treatment.